Saturday, May 22, 2010

Learn to Read

If administration diplomats are going to tell the Chinese, of all people, that Arizona's immigration law presents a human rights problem, and if congressional Democrats are going to give the president of Mexico a standing ovation when that hypocritical buffoon criticizes the Arizona law, a law nowhere near as draconian as Mexican immigration laws, then they really should have the decency to have read the legislation that they're criticizing.

It was inexcusable of the Democrats to pass a 2000 page health care reform bill that few of them had taken the trouble to examine. Now they're calling the people of Arizona a bunch of bigots and they haven't even looked to see what's in the law that's all of ten pages long.

Such fatuousness is almost beyond parody, but Arizona Governor Jan Brewer's new ad gives it a game try:


Roasting the New Atheists

An essay by David Hart in First Things has created a bit of a stir. Hart's eloquent skewering of the new atheists borders on the exquisite. Here are his opening paragraphs:

I think I am very close to concluding that this whole "New Atheism" movement is only a passing fad-not the cultural watershed its purveyors imagine it to be, but simply one of those occasional and inexplicable marketing vogues that inevitably go the way of pet rocks, disco, prime-time soaps, and The Bridges of Madison County. This is not because I necessarily think the current "marketplace of ideas" particularly good at sorting out wise arguments from foolish. But the latest trend in � la mode godlessness, it seems to me, has by now proved itself to be so intellectually and morally trivial that it has to be classified as just a form of light entertainment, and popular culture always tires of its diversions sooner or later and moves on to other, equally ephemeral toys.

Take, for instance, the recently published 50 Voices of Disbelief: Why We Are Atheists. Simple probability, surely, would seem to dictate that a collection of essays by fifty fairly intelligent and zealous atheists would contain at least one logically compelling, deeply informed, morally profound, or conceptually arresting argument for not believing in God. Certainly that was my hope in picking it up. Instead, I came away from the whole drab assemblage of preachments and preenings feeling rather as if I had just left a large banquet at which I had been made to dine entirely on crushed ice and water vapor.

To be fair, the shallowness is not evenly distributed. Some of the writers exhibit a measure of wholesome tentativeness in making their cases, and as a rule the quality of the essays is inversely proportionate to the air of authority their authors affect. For this reason, the philosophers-who are no better than their fellow contributors at reasoning, but who have better training in giving even specious arguments some appearance of systematic form-tend to come off as the most insufferable contributors. Nicholas Everitt and Stephen Law recycle the old (and incorrigibly impressionistic) argument that claims of God's omnipotence seem incompatible with claims of his goodness. Michael Tooley does not like the picture of Jesus that emerges from the gospels, at least as he reads them. Christine Overall notes that her prayers as a child were never answered; ergo, there is no God. A.C. Grayling flings a few of his favorite papier-m�ch� caricatures around. Laura Purdy mistakes hysterical fear of the religious right for a rational argument. Graham Oppy simply provides a pr�cis of his personal creed, which I assume is supposed to be compelling because its paragraphs are numbered. J.J.C. Smart finds miracles scientifically implausible (gosh, who could have seen that coming?). And so on. Ad�le Mercier comes closest to making an interesting argument-that believers do not really believe what they think they believe-but it soon collapses under the weight of its own baseless presuppositions.

The scientists fare almost as poorly. Among these, Victor Stenger is the most recklessly self-confident, but his inability to differentiate the physical distinction between something and nothing (in the sense of "not anything as such") from the logical distinction between existence and nonexistence renders his argument empty. The contributors drawn from other fields offer nothing better. The Amazing Randi, being a magician, knows that there is quite a lot of credulity out there. The historian of science Michael Shermer notes that there are many, many different and even contradictory systems of belief. The journalist Emma Tom had a psychotic scripture teacher when she was a girl. Et, as they say, cetera. The whole project probably reaches its reductio ad absurdum when the science-fiction writer Sean Williams explains that he learned to reject supernaturalism in large part from having grown up watching Doctor Who.

You really must read it all. Hart is the author of Atheist Delusions which provides an equally enjoyable and satisfying roasting of the likes of Richard Dawkins and his acolytes.


You Said You'd Never Compromise*

In a world in which corporate moguls are eager to give consumers whatever they want regardless of what it is, Steve Jobs of Apple deserves a special commendation. Jobs has refused to allow his iPhone and iPad to support apps that offer pornography. A writer for took him to task for this stand and Jobs' reply was perfect. Here's part of the story by Peter Smith at Lifesite

Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple Computers, says his company will not be a party to the pornography industry and hopes that the iPad and iPhone revolution will help lead to a porn-free world.

Jobs reiterated his position in a heated e-mail exchange with Ryan Tate, a writer for, which follows news and gossip in Silicon Valley and elsewhere. Tate, who admitted that he was home alone and slightly inebriated at the time, took issue with a television ad calling the iPad a "revolution" and fired off an e-mail to Jobs.

"If Dylan [American songwriter Bob Dylan is one of Jobs' favorite musicians] was 20 today, how would he feel about your company? Would he think the iPad had the faintest thing to do with 'revolution?' Revolutions are about freedom," Tate wrote, not expecting a response from Jobs. However, Jobs did respond to Tate, triggering an e-mail duel. "Yep, freedom from programs that steal your private data. Freedom from programs that trash your battery. Freedom from porn. Yep, freedom," responded Jobs. "The times they are a changin', and some traditional PC folks feel like their world is slipping away. It is."

However, Tate accused Jobs of "imposing" his "morality" by having Apple forbid pornographic applications for iPad. "I don't want 'freedom from porn.' Porn is just fine! And I think my wife would agree," fired back Tate - who later said he regretted mentioning his wife.

Jobs shot back, "You might care more about porn when you have kids."

Among the dumb things Tate says in his email to Jobs the claim that Jobs is "imposing his morality" is perhaps the dumbest. There's more on this story at the link. Thanks to Jason for calling it to our attention.

* From Like a Rolling Stone - Bob Dylan (1965)